Recently, I finally got around to checking out the celebrated British TV series, Foyle’s War — and found it impossible to ignore the way this echo from the past foreshadowed two news events that occurred the same day.
The first was Donald Trump’s visits to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the aftermath of last weekend’s mass shootings. The second was the mass arrest of 678 undocumented immigrants at seven agricultural-processing plants across Mississippi, the largest raid of its kind in American history, topping the previous record of 595 in 2008.
You know that old saying about how there’s 20/20 vision with hindsight? And the one that says those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them? Well, that’s why my first viewing of the Foyle franchise keeps rattling around in my brain.
Did Agatha Christie Steal from Another Writer?
If you were to ask any ten people if they knew who wrote Orient Express, all ten would likely say, "Why Agatha Christie, of course." And they'd be wrong.
That's because two years after Graham Greene published Orient Express, the novel that put him on the map in 1932, Christie published a far more popular novel with a similar name. In the UK, there'd have been no confusion over the two. The original title of Greene's book was Stamboul Train. It was only when his novel was published in the United States that its title was changed in 1934.
I've owned Orient Express for several years but only just got around to reading it. Still in brand new condition, it practically leapt off the shelf demanding to be read. This is one of the nice things about having actual books around. They say things as you pass by to gather dishes or switch off the lamp.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my eBooks in part because I can carry ten or twenty of them on a jet without having to pay extra for another bag. It's also nice to look up an unfamiliar word by placing your finger on it. I mean, that's cool. But once an eBook is stored away inside your eReader, it's out of sight and mostly out of mind. It doesn't jump off the shelf, reminding you of the day you made the purchase. The things that were going on in your life at the time. The reason you chose it in the first place. What you hoped to find between its covers. Demanding to be read if not now, when?
Since Greene's book was published first, I wondered if Christie had taken a rib from his novel to create her own. Did she believe, as Picasso did, that it's alright to steal from another artist if you think you can do it better?
There is, for instance, a significant snow delay in both. Each involves a murder. Both include a diverse ensemble of characters. And there is a shared interest in foreign police to one degree or another as the train penetrates the east European hinterland.
But beyond those similarities—and the fact that both stories take place aboard a train—the two books are as unalike as Ice-T and Ice Cube.
Although some would argue that one of these Orient Express novels is superior to the other, I am not here to play that game. My purpose is to say simply that I was deeply affected by Greene's novel. And I want to tell you why.
What History and Sexology Reveal about the Problem of Pedophilia
It is a hot midsummer's day in a small town just north of Atlanta shortly before the Epstein sex scandal hits the fan. Maybe the teenage girl who passes me as I exit the department store is sexy. But I don't think so.
She's asparagus thin and much taller than the older rounder woman, possibly her mother, who enters the store alongside her. They do not speak to each other or to me. The girl's gaze is downward, her attention is fixed on a cell phone. She wears more makeup than her young skin requires, and her dishwater blonde hair is pulled into a bun at the back of her head.
I notice these two, in part, because the girl can hardly walk. She's wearing denim blue jeans and platform shoes that add about three inches to her height. The jeans are not yoga pants or tights, but they might as well be. That's how snug they are. Between the shoes and the jeans, it's not difficult to figure out why she walks like a robot without bending her knees. And yet, she clip-clops into the store as if evolution had always intended for humans to walk this way.
I can't see my own face, but I don't think I react. The sight of a skinny teenage girl in tight jeans doesn't do anything for me. I see her as a girl in the process of growing up. And that's about it.
For the guy entering the store a few feet behind the girl, however, something different is going on.
Nabokov's Nymphet Remains Misunderstood by a Culture that Winks at the Sexualization of Children
I don’t care about Jeffrey Epstein. I care about the girls. I see the term “Lolita Express” in the news alongside passenger logs that include the names of rich and famous men, most of whom are white, and the only relief I feel is that Epstein did not have the audacity to give that name to the aircraft himself. The reference to Nabokov's famous novel came from the press, as did the nickname for the 72-acre island he owns in the Caribbean—"Orgy Island."
Cute, but it's not funny
Lolita is a tragic figure. She is completely undone by the lust of a sophisticated, well-educated adult, who by possessing the object of his desire transforms it into something entirely different, initiating her demise. The novel is a double tragedy. It is the story of Lolita's ruin and that of her putative stepfather and abductor Humbert Humbert.
Consider what it means to call Espstein's airplane "Lolita Express." Especially when the alleged sex trafficking of underage girls is part of the equation and an alleged open secret.
Does Forgetting about Sexual Assault Make It Go Away?
Nestled on an island far across the Pacific, the Hotel G20 requires the most exclusive credentials in the world. It's an invitation-only getaway. Crimes have been committed to earn a place here. Or so it's been said. As with most exclusive hideaways, what you see on the surface (should you fly a drone over), is nothing compared to what Hokusai art lovers might call the "thunderstorm beneath the summit." It is here that the Short-Fingered Vulgarian meets with his boss, The Bare-Chested Horseman, to go over the books.
Although he nods agreeably at the spreadsheet, the Bare-Chested Horseman is not pleased. His undilated pupils tighten to the size of pinpricks. Two black dots in a pair of unblinking eyes. Something is bothering him.
“Idiot! Did you really rape some woman in a department store?”
“How do I know, boss?” Though he tries to look bemused, the short-fingered Vulgarian seems bewildered. “You think I keep track of ‘em all? But I did read that excerpt from her book, and—”
“You read it?”
“Well I had Huck read it to me over the phone. Anyway, it sounds kind of familiar. Especially the part about pushing her into a fitting room. But she wanted it, boss. She was laughing the whole time. Besides, you can do stuff like that when you’re famous.”
“So you keep telling me. But once again your sordid past threatens to jeopardize everything we’ve worked for. What are you trying to do to me?”
A Black Poet, a White Politician, an SNL Parody - and How to Avoid the Danger of Being Too Sure
Lucille Clifton, Richard Nixon, Steve Martin. It’s not every day you’ll hear these three names mentioned in the same breath. But we live in a world of unusual juxtapositions. Look no further than postmodern art by Romare Beardon and Robert Rauschenberg. Or any city skyline with a Rennaissaince style church shadowed by a glass skyscraper.
Sometimes groupings like this are ironic. Others are accidental or focus on incongruity or commonality. But I’ve handpicked my threesome to make a point about the ‘perception trap’ — the perilous belief that your particular way of looking at things is the right one. There’s a lot of that going around these days. Almost no one seems immune. In American and UK politics, for example, it’s led to extreme polarization fueled by social media platforms that turn anyone with a smartphone into an instant bullhorn.
It’s only human to perceive the world around you and draw conclusions based on the information you’re processing. But it’s pure folly to pretend yourconcepts are the only correct interpretation.
So I’ve concocted a mental flu-shot comprised of life hacks gleaned from the lives of three iconic individuals from entirely different walks of life, chased by a little something extra to top it off — the pièce de résistance, if you will.
Before we get too carried away by the fit-unprintable events in today's headlines, let's take a moment to enjoy the latest uplift from the world of coffee. Apparently, it can help you lose weight! But you've got to be careful. No more than three cups a day. And no java past 1:00 PM if you want to get the much-needed deep sleep that keeps you healthy, wealthy and wise. That's because caffeine stays with you for six hours. Yikes! Here's the skinny in a two-minute summary via Gayle King and pals on CBS This Morning.
We can't just let that kind of news sit there without celebrating--can we? So let's raise a cup in joyful gratitude with this fun version of Bach's Coffee Cantata, the gritty heat of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, the cool piano of Ray Charles, and a Paris DJ set from Black Coffee himself. Because after all--whether you like it hot or cold, espresso, pressed or dripped--there's no time like the present to acknowledge the bean without which life would be as dull as a "shriveled-up roasted goat." (Watch Bach's hilarious cantata with English subtitles to catch the reference.)
Three Lovely Things to Think On: Rilke, Paul Gauguin & Music from Wong Kar-wai's 'In the Mood for Love'
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I spoke with an educator who told me about an essay written by a 16-year-old student. Like the advice Nick Carraway received from his father on the opening page of The Great Gatsby, it's something I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
Donald Trump won the election, the high-schooler said, because he only thinks positive things about himself even if they're not true. But that's not all he did. He also managed to get everyone else to think negative thoughts. You can't win when you get negative. You just can't.
This was one of those insights about which I could only say, "Out of the mouths of babes." Surely there were many quantitative factors that led to the election's outcome. Systematic, carefully orchestrated help from Russia, for example. An electoral college system that permits a minority vote-getter to secure the Oval Office. James Comey's ill-timed statements about the Clinton email investigation. And many more. But the words of that 16-year-old essayist seemed to get to the heart of the matter. They also reminded me of her famous 20th-century precursor.
In 1903, James Allen wrote a significant little book which says, "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."
I've been reflecting on that line lately because I've taken a few days to absent myself from the news. Funny how a little adjustment like that can make a difference in the way you feel. Not that I've got my head in the sand. You can't do that entirely.
But backing away from the daily mayhem seems to have improved my overall sense of well-being.
I've heard it said that you can't solve a problem by focusing on it too much. That only makes the problem larger and more difficult in your mind. Solutions come when you step back far enough to see the big picture.
It also helps, I've found, to bear in mind what St. Paul said about thought. You know the line. "Whatever is true, honorable and right, whatever is pure, lovely, and of good repute--if there be anything excellent worthy of praise, let your mind think on those things."
To that end, dear friends, here are three things that seem to fit Paul's paradigm. They make me feel better. Maybe you'll get something from them too.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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